The Rise of Social Networking Games

Social gaming has become, without a doubt, one of the major forces in the industry over the past few years. Mushfiq Zaman traces the popularity of these games, hoping to understand what makes them tick, and if they have any drawbacks. This marks the beginning of our social gaming category.

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The last decade has seen the rise of several social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, and most recently, Google Plus. It’s not surprising that along with this came the growing popularity of the games being played on these websites. With online micro-transactions and multitudes of followers, this segment has now turned into a billion dollar industry. The question that comes to mind the most is why and how has this happened?

Social networking games are not only unique when compared to other more traditional versions; as Sande Chen notes, they are also distinct in their own genre. Most require very little strategy, and generally not much time to play. They are designed for casual gamers who would spend a few minutes a day to otherwise spend leisure periods. Yet within these boundaries, this segment currently has more than a billion fans and the industry itself may be worth anywhere from three to six billion dollars.

The Gaming Premise


You can beat or join the ranks of the Avengers on Facebook.

The games in this genre span from high fantasy to fishing and so on. Most are free to play, with the option to buy virtual items with real cash to enhance the gaming experience. They have several attractive qualities. The player’s character is always online, thus it can be interacted with even when the player isn’t around. In this sense it creates a sort of simulation of real life. Similarly, a person can lead a sort of double life in these games, being any character they wish to be. A shy individual can act confident, strong, while others may act out fantasies nearly impossible in real life.

These features are the main reasons for the success of the games. School or college friends who are often living on opposite sides of the world can join together in a group and go “monster hunting” in Castle Age. Total strangers may form a “family” in Mafia Wars. Thus, micro-transactions are understandable as some players would like to gain better items to play with. Similarly, these virtual objects appear within a player’s avatar or status, and like real life items such as shoes, watches, jewelry, and so on, can be used to show off to other players. Therefore, it’s clear why this genre has a different fan base, such as older men, women, and not the more orthodox gamers. In fact, most people who play these titles might never have touched a gaming console in their lives.

Drawbacks to Social Games

Like other gaming segments, this genre has met its own fair share of critics. Most are concerned with spamming and cyber bullying. The former occurs in the form of posts when a player achieves something in the game. The problem occurs when these appear on the homepages of people who are friends with the gamers, but are otherwise not engaged with the games. Their complaints about this feature reached such volumes that it forced Facebook to revise their posting options. This feature even tempts players trying to quit to come back to the game with the advertisement of better rewards and so on.


This happens more often than you think.

Cyber bullying, the other complaint, is even more serious. There were cases in which real life threats were made against gamers. With negligible help provided by the game developers and the social networking sites themselves, this will always remain as the most harmful aspect of these games.

The Growing Trend

Despite the drawbacks, social networking games are thriving. These games, with the right amount of fantasy, provide the casual gamer an escape from the daily routine, which accounts for its growing popularity, and due to this trend, many developers are now targeting this particular market.

Even though its popularity took a dip recently, Zynga are expanding their employees and games. Mainstream video game companies are also planning on entering this segment, and some like EA already have their own games. One can only imagine the quality of games that will be offered in the near future.

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